McCartan left to rue cost of 'human error'
ALLIANZ NFL DIV 1 SEMI-FINAL
The optimists in Down will look at this result and draw comfort from the deficit at least remaining in single figures.
The pessimists will observe with somewhat more pragmatism how their team still just don't seem to be able to cope with Cork's powerful running game, which saw them win with ease for the fourth consecutive meeting between these sides.
Cork have won those games by a cumulative total of 44 points since the one-point victory in the 2010 All- Ireland final. Down manager James McCartan drew some comfort from the fact that Down were just two points adrift with 15 minutes remaining -- after Aidan Carr's penalty had reduced Cork's lead to 1-13 to 1-11 -- but Cork always had another gear to reach and as soon as they sensed danger they were able to take off.
The win guarantees a third successive Division 1 league final appearance, a feat last achieved by Dublin from 1987 to 1989. No team since Kerry (1971-74) has won three consecutive league finals so it's a measure of Cork's consistency that they find themselves in this position now.
With the backdrop of virtually an empty stadium, the cavernous feel of Croke Park clearly had an impact on the intensity of this semi-final. The official attendance was 11,342 and by the second half the majority were on their way home. It lacked any intensity and Counihan acknowledged afterwards that it was "a bit dead."
Referee Michael Duffy showed just two yellow cards and awarded only 30 frees, well below the average for games of this nature.
The re-introduction of semi-finals was a move designed to avoid 'dead rubber' league games in the last round and it certainly made things interesting on the previous weekend. But a review of semi-finals will be on the cards again after such paltry crowd figures.
Cork have had their most erratic league campaign under Counihan yet but it has picked up in the last three games and there were positive signs as Pearse O'Neill, Paul Kerrigan, Paddy Kelly and Colm O'Neill took turns at exploiting the space left by a benign Down defence.
McCartan made the point afterwards that Down can't really afford to be without key players and Danny Hughes and Dan Gordon were significant losses.
"I don't want to be disrespectful to any members of our panel but Cork's 15 to 30 would be a lot more experienced than our 15 to 30 and when you lose Dan Gordon, Danny Hughes and Liam Doyle ...
"For us to be successful we would need every shoulder to the wheel and when a couple of players are missing out of our team, it's a bigger miss than it would be out of Cork's," he said.
Yet he felt they were much closer than the final scoreline reflected: "I'm not going to say Cork were there for the taking but we felt that if we could have upped it a bit and got earlier ball into our forward line we could have caused them problems. It seems that human error was a big factor and played a big part in our own downfall."
The error he referred to came in the form of Brendan McVeigh's fumble of Denis O'Sullivan's speculative delivery into the Down goalmouth on 60 minutes, which presented Alan O'Connor with the easiest of goal chances.
That made it 2-15 to 1-12 and ripped the heart out of any potential Down comeback. Down had been right in it in the first half, leading early on by 0-3 to 0-1 and trailing by just 0-9 to 0-7 at the interval.
Conor Laverty caused a lot of early damage and had picked off three points before he retired with an apparent injury just before half-time, while centre-forward Mark Poland showed a lot of creativity and energy.
At the other end, Colm O'Neill continued his recovery from cruciate ligament trouble with arguably his most impressive league display yet.
Paul Kerrigan scored three points but it was some of his long-range passes that stood out and one such delivery on 42 minutes opened up the Down defence with Paddy Kelly in receipt and Colm O'Neill running in for Cork's opening goal and a 1-12 to 0-10 lead.
Benny Coulter's third point steadied Down and when Cork substitute Jamie O'Sullivan handled the ball on the ground to clear just as Kalum King's half-blocked shot was crossing the goal-line on 54 minutes, referee Michael Duffy awarded a penalty which Aidan Carr converted impressively.
But Cork were unnerved and a great Noel O'Leary score off the outside of his right foot had them three points clear again. Cork mixed it up well with intelligent long ball for the likes of Colm O'Neill and Donncha O'Connor to run onto, a contrast to the running game enjoyed by Pearse O'Neill, Kerrigan and Kelly.
Counihan was also pleased to have Daniel Goulding back as he made his re-appearance after a long-term ankle injury.
McCartan cherished the fact his team were still in Division 1 despite this defeat: "It's a funny league. If we had been beaten by three points by Laois we would have been relegated so we got into the top four. It's a strange set-up. As I said before, six weeks ago we were allegedly the worst team in the division, then three weeks ago Mayo took over that mantle. But any time you stay in Division 1 you're happy."
Man of the Match: P Kerrigan (Cork)
Scorers -- Cork: C O'Neill 1-6 (3f), A O'Connor 1-0, P Kerrigan, P O'Neill 0-3 each, A Walsh, D O'Connor, B O'Driscoll, N O'Leary, D Goulding all 0-1 each. Down: A Carr 1-2 (0-1f), C Laverty, B Coulter 0-3 each, C Maginn, B McArdle, A McConville (f), M Poland all 0-1 each.
Cork -- A Quirke 7; R Carey 7, M Shields 7, E Cotter 7; E Cadogan 6, N O'Leary 8, P Kissane 7; A O'Connor 7, P O'Neill 8; F Goold 6, P Kelly 7, P Kerrigan 8; C O'Neill 8, A Walsh 6, D O'Connor 6. Subs: J O'Sullivan 6 for Cotter (h-t), B O'Driscoll 6 for Walsh (h-t), D O'Sullivan 6 for Cadogan (45), M Collins 6 for Goold (55), D Goulding for D O'Connor (64).
Down -- B McVeigh 5; B McArdle 7, C Garvey 7, D McCartan 5; D Turley 6, N McParland 6, K McKernan 6; A Rogers 6, K King 5; P Turley 5, M Poland 8, A Carr 7; A McConville 6, C Laverty 8, B Coulter 7. Subs: C Maginn 7 for Laverty (35 inj), N Branagan 5 for D McCartan (45), A Branagan 5 for D Turley (45), D O'Hare 6 for McConville (54), K Quinn for D Turley (60).
Ref -- Michael Duffy (Sligo)
The game at a glance
Man of the match
Paul Kerrigan (Cork)
Kerrigan helped himself to three points and was involved in many of Cork's better moves.
When Brendan McVeigh dropped Denis O'Sullivan's lob into the Down goalmouth on 60 minutes, Alan O'Connor's goal was a gift to shut this game out as a contest.
A crowd of just over 11,000 turned up for a double-header and many had left by the second half of this game. The atmosphere ensured that this never felt like a contest.
Michael Duffy didn't have much to do as the match always lacked intensity.
What they said
Paul Kerrigan (Cork):
"We brought consistency into the game against Dublin. We showed it in the first half against Dublin and in the first half again today. It's in us if we want it."
James McCartan (Down manager):
"I'd be disappointed with the human error. I'm pretty sure it cost us both goals.
Frees: Cork 11 (5), Down 19 (6)
Wides: Cork 12 (5), Down 10 (7)
Yellow Cards: Cork 2 (Alan O'Connor 38, Mark Collins 68)
Down play Fermanagh in Enniskillen in the quarter-final of the Ulster SFC on June 3, Cork meet Mayo in the Division 1 league final on April 29.